PXL-2000

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The PXL2000 video camera

The PXL-2000 (also known as Fisher-Price PXL2000, Fisher-Price PixelVision, Sanwa Sanpix1000, KiddieCorder, and Georgia[1]) was a toy black-and-white camcorder produced in 1987 that uses a compact audio cassette as its recording medium. The PXL-2000 was created by a team of inventors led by James Wickstead, who sold the rights to Fisher Price in 1987 at the American International Toy Fair in Manhattan.[2] When the PXL-2000 was available in retail outlets, it came in two versions, one with just the camera and necessary accessories (power supply, blank tape, etc.), and another which came packaged with a portable black and white television that had a 4.5-inch (110 mm) diagonal screen for use as a monitor. There were also extra accessories sold separately, such as a carrying case. The market success of the PXL-2000 was ultimately quite low with its targeted demographic, in part due to its pricing. Initially sold for $179 ($370 in 2014 dollars[3]) and was later reduced to $100 ($206 in 2014 dollars[4]), the PXL-2000 was expensive for a child's toy, yet found lasting minor success with a smaller pool of young video artists as a cheap alternative to more expensive handheld videocameras. Only surviving on the market for about a year, only around 400,000 units were ever produced, resulting in the PXL-2000's eventual present status as a sought after cult object among many artists and media historians.[5]

Technical information[edit]

The PXL-2000 consists of a simple aspherical lens, an infrared filter, a CCD image sensor, a custom ASIC (the Sanyo LA 7306M), and an audio cassette mechanism. This is mounted in a plastic housing with a bay for consumable batteries and a simple RF video modulator selectable to either North American television channel 3 or 4. A plastic viewfinder and some control buttons complete the device.

An ordinary cassette audio tape is used for storage of both audio and video. The PXL-2000 holds 11 minutes of footage by moving the tape at a high speed, roughly 16 7/8 in/s (429 mm/s) as opposed to cassette's standard speed of 1 7/8 in/s (48 mm/s) on a C90 CrO2 (chromium dioxide) cassette. The high speed is necessary because video requires a wider bandwidth than standard audio recording (In magnetic tape recording, the faster the tape speed, the more bandwidth can be recorded on the tape). The PXL-2000 records the video information on the left audio channel of the cassette, and the audio on the right.[6]

In order to reduce the amount of information recorded to fit within the narrow bandwidth of the sped-up audio cassette, it uses an ASIC to generate slower video timings than conventional TVs use. It scans the 120 by 90 pixel CCD fifteen times a second, feeding the results through a filtering circuit, and then to a frequency modulation circuit driving the left channel of the cassette head as well as to an ADC, which created the final image for viewing.

For playback and view-through purposes, circuitry is included that takes image data from either the cassette or the CCD and uses it to fill half of a digital frame store at the PXL reduced rate, while scanning other half of the frame store at normal NTSC rates. Since each half of the frame store includes only 10800 pixels in its 120 by 90 array, the same as the CCD, the display resolution was deemed to be marginal, and black borders were added around the picture, squashing the framestore image content into the middle of the frame, preserving pixels which would otherwise be lost in overscan. An anti-aliasing low-pass filter is included in the final video output circuit.

The PXL-2000 has several weak points. The most common fault is a decayed drive belt, common to most tape mechanisms of the 1980s, and fogged blue filters. The blue filter is a glass optical component that is fitted behind the lens to prevent infrared light from reaching the CCD and producing miscoloured images. They tend to become fogged in stored PXLs, possibly as a result of outgassing from the plastic components of the camera. This issue can be fixed by disassembling the camera, removing the blue filter, and cleaning it with a window cleaning solution like Windex. Many PXL-2000 cameras have also suffered damage from leaking electrolyte from old batteries, but this is usually not serious and can be easily repaired. Cameras left with tapes inserted for long periods of time may also need the tape path to be cleaned and a pinch wheel replacement.

Package descriptions[edit]

Model #3300 PXL-2000 Camcorder[edit]

  • PXL-2000 Camcorder
  • Mini-bipod stand
  • Video switch box
  • Video cable
  • One PXL-2000 audio cassette tape
  • Instruction Booklet
  • 6 "AA" Duracell batteries

The original retail price of this package was about US$100.[7][8]

Model #3305 PXL-2000 Camcorder Deluxe System[edit]

  • PXL-2000 Camcorder
  • Mini-bipod stand
  • Video switch box
  • Video cable
  • One PXL-2000 audio cassette tape
  • Instruction Booklet
  • 4.5" diagonal black and white TV (with AC adapter)
  • 6 "AA" Duracell batteries

The original retail price of this package was about US$150.[9]

Revival[edit]

The PXL-2000 has seen a revival in popularity since the early-to-mid 1990s among independent graphic designers, experimental/avant-garde, and underground filmmakers, due to its point-and-shoot simplicity and resonance within a deliberately amateur subculture. Since the PXL-2000 both breaks down easily and is past production, its use is aligned with a certain romanticized mortality, unfit for serious mainstream appropriation. Erik Saks writes that: "Each time an artist uses a PXL 2000, the whole form edges closer to extinction."[10]

In 1990, Pixelvision enthusist Gerry Fialka organized PXL THIS, the first film festival dedicated to projects shot exclusively on the PXL-2000. The festival continues to occur annually in Los Angeles, California. Recalling the PXL-2000's initial promise of accessibility, Fialka's vision includes accepting submissions indiscriminately, juxtaposing the works of established artists with those of amateurs and children.[11]

Also in Los Angeles, Pixelporn, a one-time all Pixelvision pornography festival was held in 1997, with submissions judged by John Waters and Camille Paglia among others.[12]

PXL-2000 cameras are still popular in the filmmaking scene—in fact, some individuals offer modifications for the PXL-2000 to output composite video, to interface to an external camcorder with a composite video in, or a VCR.[citation needed] The cameras themselves are still in demand, fetching prices as high as $200–500 on auction sites like eBay as of 2012.

Notable uses[edit]

The PXL-2000 was used by Richard Linklater in his 1991 debut film Slacker. The roughly two-minute performance art scene is shot entirely in PixelVision.

Peggy Ahwesh's Strange Weather (1993) was shot entirely on a PXL-2000. This video, which follows several crack heads in Florida, relies heavily on the camera's portability to maintain an intimate presence. The black-and-white blurred footage paints a hauntingly spectral portrait of life in poverty and addiction.

Video artist Sadie Benning is among the most critically acclaimed pioneers of the PXL-2000, one of which was given to her by her father James Benning around the age of 15. Benning's early video diary works gained popularity in art circles, earning her a lasting reputation as an innovator, with an important presence in video art.

Michael Almereyda used the camera for several of his films: Another Girl Another Planet (1992) and his short Aliens (1993) were shot with it entirely, and it was used for point of view shots of the title character in Nadja (1994), and by the title character to make video diaries in Hamlet (2000).

The camera has also been used for several music videos, most notably, Mote by Sonic Youth and Black Grease by the Black Angels.

Artist John Humphrey's notorious 2003 video Pee Wee Goes to Prison is shot on a PXL-2000, employing a cast of dolls and other toys to stage the imaginary trial, incarceration, and eventual pardoning (by newly elected president Jesse Ventura) of Pee Wee Herman for the sale of Yohimbe.[13]

The PXL-2000 was used by the characters Maggie and Jamie in the 2010 film Love and Other Drugs, although the black and white "footage" from the camera is shown at full film resolution.[14]

Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes talk about the PXL-2000 in Episode 91 of their podcast Jay & Silent Bob Get Old on the SModcast.com network.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pixelvision Mystery - More PXL-2000's Than We Thought? - Sanpix 1000
  2. ^ Revkin, Andrew C. (22 January 2000). "As Simple as Black and White; Children's Toy Is Reborn as an Avant-Garde Filmmaking Tool". New York Times. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  3. ^ http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=179&year1=1987&year2=2014
  4. ^ http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=100&year1=1987&year2=2014
  5. ^ McCarty, Andrea Nina (2005). Toying with Obsolescence: Pixelvision Filmmakers and the Fisher Price PXL 2000 Camera. Massachusetts: Thesis (S.M.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Comparative Media Studies. p. 20. 
  6. ^ US Patent 4875107
  7. ^ Need a little history on PXL-2000 Pixelvision Camcorder
  8. ^ Technical Info on Fisher-Price Camcorder
  9. ^ PixelVision Camera
  10. ^ McCarty, Andrea Nina (2005). Toying with Obsolescence: Pixelvision Filmmakes and the Fisher Price Pxl 2000 Camera. Thesis (S.M.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Comparative Media Studies. p. 93. 
  11. ^ McCarty, Andrea Nina (2005). Toying with Obsolescence: Pixelvision Filmmakers and the Fisher Price PXL-2000 Camera. Massachusetts: Thesis (S.M.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Comparative Media Studies. p. 71. 
  12. ^ Arnzen, Monica. "Pixelporn: The First Annual Pixelvision Pornography Film Festival". SurReview. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  13. ^ Humphrey, John. "Pee Wee Goes to Prison". Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  14. ^ Movie reviews: Love and Other Drugs
  15. ^ Jay & Silent Bob Get Old #091 heard at approximately 48:20

External links[edit]